A Moving Caption is Needed

I am disconnecting my internet today and will not have it again for a few days.

So in the mean time feel free to leave a personalized caption for this photo - not that I am wearing that big of a grin these days.. moving is so much fun.

Should Americans boycott BP stations?

Did you know that there is a Boycott BP page on Facebook? It is a part of the mounting outrage by Americans over the massive oil spill in the Gulf and it is affecting independent gas station owners. According to this AP article:
As more Americans shun BP gasoline as a form of protest over the Gulf oil spill, station owners are insisting BP do more to help them convince motorists that such boycotts mostly hurt independently owned businesses, not the British oil giant.

To win back customers, they'd like the company's help in reducing the price at the pump. ... Station owners and BP gas distributors told BP officials last week they need a break on the cost of the gas they buy, and they want help paying for more advertising aimed at motorists, according to John Kleine, executive director of the independent BP Amoco Marketers Association.
I think that the boycott is a bit of a two-edged sword - it may send a message to BP executives but it also hurts American small business owners that had nothing to do with the oil rig explosion and subsequent spillage. And I wonder how fair a BP reduction in gas prices would be to other oil companies.. not that I would mind lower gas prices mind you.

What do you think? Do you support the BP Boycott?

How does Google do it?

Interesting brief video about one of the latest Google products. Don't you think that there is just something weird about Google? How can all their stuff be free? I don't know the answer to that but I do use many of their products.. like Blogger, Gmail, Chrome Browser, Maps, Calendar, Reader and recently I got my second Google Voice telephone number as I move to a new area code this week. Yet I still wonder.. how can Google offer all of this for free.. do they real make that much from advertising? Maybe I shouldn't block all of those ads with my Chrome Browser? How many Google products do you use? Which ones?

The #1 Divorce Predictor

Consider this to be a follow-up to Monday's post titled Marriage can be Hard Work. This week I came across the Smart Marriages website.. the online office of "The Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education". According to them "The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict." Here are a few insightful things that they say about divorce:
What's sad is the reason that we avoid conflict is because we believe it (conflict) causes divorce. It's like the cartoon where the couple explains to the marriage counselor, "We never talk anymore. We figured out that's when we do all our fighting."

In the beginning, we avoid conflict because we are in love and we believe that "staying in love" is about agreeing, about NOT fighting. We're afraid that if we disagree - or fight - we'll run our marriage off into the ditch. We believe that if we've found our soulmate, we'll agree about most things - and certainly about the important things.

Later, we avoid conflict because when we try to deal with our differences things get so out of hand and our fights so destructive and upsetting that we simply shut down. After a few bad blow-ups we become determined to avoid conflict at any cost. And, we start wondering if we married the wrong person. It shouldn't be this hard.
I think that I really understand this phenomenon. I think that it takes a tremendous amount of something.. call it love I guess.. to talk about the hard stuff.. to delve into our frustrations with each other. I think that, over time, our frustrations only get deeper and usually morph into something darker. It is like an infection - if left untreated it gets worse and eventually drastic measures are needed to save the body.

Here is what Smart Marriages say about successful couples:
  • They know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy.
  • They know how to contain their disagreements – how to keep them from spilling over and contaminating the rest of their relationship. 
  • They learn how to manage the disagreements and live life "around" them – to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to develop understanding and empathy for
    their partner's positions. 
  • They learn to dance in spite of their differences. They gain comfort in knowing they know their partner, know which areas they disagree on and must learn to manage.
I like the conclusion that they reach:
The divorce courts have it all wrong. "Irreconcilable differences" – like a bad knee or a chronic back – are not a reason to divorce. Instead, they are part of every good marriage.
I think that they are right about conflict avoidance being a predictor of divorce. I know that in my own life our marital relationship has only gotten stronger when we deal with the really difficult issues. It is hard but so worthwhile. I also think that they are spot on about differences being a part of a good marriage. I mean really.. lol.. who would want to be married to an opposite sex version of themselves?

Do atheists really want to hear about Jesus?

Casey recently posted the longer version of this rant by Vegas Magician Penn Jillette at his place.. the video I posted is under a minute. I found the idea that atheists want people to witness to them about Jesus a bit disingenuous. In the bigger story Jillette tells about a guy who gave him a bible and how he was touched by the man's kindness.. but in my opinion he blew the guy's message off because of his fundamentalist leaning toward atheism.

What do you think? Are atheists really all that interested in having discussions about faith?

My Two-Cents on McChrystal

I think that this Denver Post cartoon says it pretty well. Probably a good idea for the General to step down. The war (or something else) must have gotten to him and impaired his judgment. Good chance an enlisted person would have been treated harsher. What do you think about his remarks?

Passion, Purpose and Pleasure

Gregg recently listed his all time favorite movies - a great list of flicks. I commented and told Gregg that one of the movies that missed his list was Chariots of Fire.. the movie about two very different runners. This pic is one of Eric Liddel.. he ran like a wild man and lacked the finesse of Harold Abrahams.. the other runner who competed with him in the 1924 Olympics.

Every time I look at this image I am reminded of this line from the movie spoken by Liddel:
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.
And when I run I feel His pleasure.
I think that passion can be defined using two words from this line: purpose and pleasure. When Eric Liddel, a man who would in time be remembered as a martyred missionary to China, ran in the 1924 Olympics he ran as a man filled with passion.. passion for God.. if you remember the movie.. he would not run in a race because of his conviction about not running on the Sundays. He also seemed to have a passion for life.. it seemed that whatever he did he did it with all he had. Here is a passage from another scene in the movie where Eric is addressing a crowd that watched him race:
You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job.

So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.
I find that those I know who seem to have real passion for life and for God seem to have a deep inner purpose and experience pleasure in carrying out that purpose. Have you been around people like that? What do you think of when you hear the word passion?

Why Would Anyone Kindle?

June 29, 2010 Update: Looks like the e-reader wars are on. This week Barnes & Noble cut prices for its Nook e-reader from $259 to $199 and introduced a $149 WiFi version in a move to put pressure on Amazon’s Kindle and grab more market share. To counter the move Amazon cut the Kindle price to $189.

Anybody lured in by the price drop? Or just annoyed that you bought early and paid full price? Or did you decide that an iPad is a better option? Or are you happy with paper?

October 29, 2009: Many of us who are a bit geeky have thought for a long time that one day paper would be replaced with digitized versions of those things that are on paper. We have already seem much of the "news" captured in RSS feeds and websites. We have also seen postal letters and cards replaced by email and e-cards. I love the advantages that we get from electronic media.. I like the speed of delivery and the cost.. we get the news 24/7 and don't have to wait days to get a note from a friend.. and it is mostly free.

So this morning I get a tweet from Scot McKnight telling me his book Jesus Creed is now selling at Amazon in Kindle form. So I check it out and find the Kindle version is selling for $9.99. That seemed a bit high to me (after all I am used to "free") so I checked out the paper version and found it on Amazon on sale for $11.55. Hmmm.. that just didn't seem to make sense to me. It seems that the cost of the paper, printing and distribution would be more than $1.56?

Of course Amazon also sells the Kindle device.. you can get one for a mere $259. So I think that I am missing something. Can someone tell me why anyone would buy a Kindle?  Is it just not waiting a couple of days to get the paper version? It seems one could get the book from a local store if they need it right away.

So why would anyone Kindle?

Pirate Radio | ★★★★

Sometimes another person can capture our thoughts better than we can. Here is a short Netflix review of this movie by someone known as vqn:
I wanted to like this movie, but there wasn't enough "movie" to like. It was a great ensemble cast full of well sketched characters, but there needed to be more development into these 2 dimensional DJs. Also the plot was too simplistic. You have 2 guys trying to shut down pirate radio, but really they were just a foil to show how uptight they were compared to the radio personalities. The music was fantastic and the acting was fun, but there should have been more substance beyond that. I give the movie 2 stars, music 5 stars.
This movie took forever to arrive.. Netflix had in on "long wait" ever since it was released on DVD.. hence, my expectations were fairly high. Like vqn I wanted to like this movie - it did have some good moments but overall there wasn't much to it and it came across as a bit juvenile. So, I really wouldn't recommend it.. even the music wasn't as great as vqn thought it was - I liked the tunes but did not love them. On a scale of 10 I give this movie ★★★★

Marriage can be Hard Work

The recent revelation of the marital problems of Al and Tipper Gore has got me to thinking about the whole divorce phenomena and how much hard work is involved in marriage. This Shoebox cartoon speaks to the different ways that couples process problems in their marriages.. some want to calmly process the problems and come to a rational and unemotional conclusion.. others are noticeably angry and want some sort of justice.. I think that this is particularly true when betrayal is involved. Sad to think of all of devastation when couples decide to divide.

I ran across this Elizabeth Aston quote yesterday.. it speaks to where many couples are:
"Love has no place in a lawyer's office."
The decision to seek the counsel of a divorce lawyer is a telling one. It can be a wise decision if it is preceded by heartfelt efforts of relational problem solving with the help of a good counselor. Unfortunately though, things like abuse and years of unresolved relational problems lead a person directly to the lawyer's office.

This is the part of the post where I come up with "the answer".. unfortunately I have no answers for the pains involved in these situations. I did not pastor very long but the 3+ years that I did involved a bit of marriage counseling.. and the overwhelming message from those years is that people wait too long to get help.. by the time they came to see 'the pastor' they were ready to quit rather to do the (seemingly impossible) work of reconciliation.

And lest you think that I am simply on the outside looking in - you need to know that everyone struggles to have a healthy marriage. Since my wife Ann was disabled three years ago our marriage has gotten harder.. crisis has caused us both to ask difficult questions of each other.. it has (eventually) brought out many of the things floating around in our subconscious.. we have had very difficult conversations.. we have been forced to confront our fears and insecurities.. to get healthy we had to be uncomfortable at times.

Now, lest you think that I am judging folks like the Gores, I need to tell you that I have not been married 40 years.. I cannot, and will not, criticize them or others who have separated or divorced.. I have no right.. I have not walked in their shoes. But I will say this - if you are having problems in your marriage.. even small ones.. I suggest that you do everything you can to bring health to your marriage as early as you can.. time without intervention will not heal your marital wounds.. over time small problems usually get bigger.

So I am wondering - what kind of advice you might have for people struggling in their marriage? What things have worked to bring health to your relationships?

Crazy Heart | ★★★★★★★★

Last week Ann and I spent an evening with the magnificent Jeff Bridges. Here is the Netflix writeup for this gritty flick:
When reporter Jean Craddock (Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal) interviews Bad Blake (Oscar winner Jeff Bridges) -- an alcoholic, seen-better-days country music legend -- they connect, and the hard-living crooner sees a possible saving grace in a life with Jean and her young son. But can he leave behind an existence playing in the shadow of Tommy (Colin Farrell), the upstart kid he once mentored?
What I liked about this one was (surprise!) Jeff Bridges. Apart from him the movie would not have got the acclaim that it did and it would not have been that good. It was difficult to watch Bridges' R-rated portrayal of a man crippled and broken by alcohol. The movie is a portrayal of what booze can do to gifted people. It shows how a person can sacrifice everything.. relationships.. marriages.. careers.. self-respect.. at the altar of addiction.

I hesitate to say more because I do not want to spoil it for folks who have not seen it. I recommend the movie for anyone interested in gritty dramas and some pretty good country music. On a scale of 10 I give this movie ★★★★★★★★

Confessions of a WiFi Loiterer

On Monday $tarbucks announced that they will be offering free Wi-Fi at all stores nationwide beginning July 1st. Yesterday Jeff Bertolucci from PC World offered the following observation in an online piece, called Starbucks' Free Wi-Fi: Bring on the Loafers, Lazies, and Loiterers:
So, Starbucks plans to offer free wireless Internet at all of its U.S. stores starting July 1. It's a friendly gesture, certainly, one that could very well draw more customers to the coffee chain's thousands of outlets. Then again, the Wi-Fi perk may prove a little too successful, particularly if it attracts a particular breed of wireless hound.

You know the type. Offer free Wi-Fi and they will come--and never leave. Equipped with a laptop, cell phone, orthopedic backrest, and possibly even a Tupperware lunch, they'll hunker down in a leather chair or commandeer the best table--the one nearest the AC outlet, naturally. Often they seem to travel in packs; a free-Wi-Fi zone may face an infestation of laptop-toting loafers, a sea of glowing LCDs filling every corner of the coffee house. The neighborhood java hut often becomes their home office away from home.

Sure, some squatters may purchase a small latte, maybe even a bran muffin or a decaf refill after hours of loitering. But their small acts of patronage won't compensate for the ill will they generate, both in the minds of other (irate) customers who can't find an open table, and in the merchant's undernourished coffers.
My response to Jeff.. in the words spoken by Bobby D in Taxi Driver.. "You talkin to me?" Yes, I have been known to squat at $tarbucks chatting with a friend as I suck down a $3-4 latte - sometimes I am $4-thirsty and others $3-thirsty.. and I rarely buy any of their bad eats.. I mean come on.. can't they find a fresh (emphasize fresh) pastry or bagel? Or maybe a few slices of microwaved bacon? Sadly.. unlike their competitor Panera they do not.

I guess I am glad that $tarbucks finally changed their WiFi policy but I do not think that it will change my laptop loitering venue. I will probably still frequent Panera for my morning coffee and bagel - the place offers free WiFi, free refills on my coffee and food that is not stale.

How about you? Are you a WiFi loiterer? Will free WiFi attract you to $tarbucks?

The Rise of the Nones

I am not sure that this is anything new.. most of already understand what this Trinity College report, titled American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, speaks to in 29 pages. Consider this from the intro page:
One of the most widely noted findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008), which was released in March 2009, was the substantial increase in the No Religion segment of the U.S. population, whom we designate as "Nones." The Nones increased from 8.1% of the U.S. adult population in 1990 to 15% in 2008 and from 14 to 34 million adults. Their numbers far exceed the combined total of all the non-Christian religious groups in the U.S.

Who exactly are the Nones? "None" is not a movement, but a label for a diverse group of people who do not identify with any of the myriad of religious options in the American religious marketplace – the irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical. Some believe in God; some do not. Some may participate occasionally in religious rituals; others never will.

Nones are easily misunderstood. On the one hand, only a small minority are atheists. On the other hand, it is also not correct to describe them as "unchurched" or "unaffiliated" on the assumption that they are mainly theists and religious searchers who are temporarily between congregations. Yet another incorrect assumption is that large proportions of Nones are anti-rationalist proponents of New Age and supernatural ideas. As we will show, they are more likely to be rational skeptics.
I think that the "rational skeptics" description is representative of many folks that I have met outside of the four walls of the church. Many folks that I have met in the Blogosphere are one-time church going people who have had sincere and honest questions about their beliefs. I once thought that these folks were simply people that have been let down or hurt by "the church".. that may be true of some but it is certainly not the majority of the great folks that I have encountered.

I think that the whole skepticism thing is endemic of our Western culture. We in the West are trained from birth to rely heavily on our brain and our senses. People who are deemed "successful" are those who have used their intellects, got educated and are now addressed as "Doctor". Unfortunately we are not taught much about how to rely on things like faith, hope and love. In a sense we have replaced some of these things with "positive thinking" and pseudo-psychological yoga-ish techniques.. things that can be understood and explained to the brain.

I am rambling a bit now.. so I will simply throw the ball into your court. Do you know many "Nones"? Do you think "rational skeptic" is a good description of them? Do you think religious leaders have let them down? How?

Remembering the Flag

Last week my congressman emailed me a note about Flag Day..
FlagsEvery year on June 14, we celebrate the birthday of the Stars and Stripes. On that date in 1777, the Second Continental Congress authorized a new flag to symbolize the new nation, the United States of America. The first national observance of Flag Day followed on June 14, 1877, the centennial of the original flag resolution.

By the mid 1890s the observance of Flag Day on June 14 was a popular event and, due to growing public support for an official national observance, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14. It was not until 1949, however, that Congress made this day a permanent observance by resolving, “That the 14th day of June of each year is hereby designated as Flag Day…”

Our flag continues, to this day, to be a symbol of strength, hope, and a source of pride for Americans.
When I think about our flag I alway think of the US National Anthem. Here is a historical reminder from Wikipedia of the link between the flag and the song:
The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889 and the President in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931.
I still wax patriotic when I hear these lyrics from the song:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Our flag flies over soldiers, students, bureaucrats, and peoples who have come here from all nations. It has flown in war and in peace. It has flown on the moon. It represents courage, compassion and strength. Long may it wave.

Retro iPhone

For those of you too young to remember.. this monstrosity is reminiscent of the way that your mom, dad and grandparents made phone calls. I began working for Ma Bell just about the time that push button phones were introduced.. don't think that I have ever actually owned a rotary dial phone.. but then again.. until 1984 no one owned telephones.. they were leased to you as part of your phone service . My how things have changed. Glad we no longer use these awkward devices.

Anybody remember using one of these rotary dial phones?

Religious Answers

Today's post was originally posted on my faith blog almost five years ago. Thought that this would be something you might enjoy this Sunday.

Ever read something in the bible, embrace it and regurgitate it to someone? Sure you have. I wonder if it is endemic of our need to have an answer when we don’t have a clue. Consider these passages from the first three chapters of book of Job:

Chapter 1: All of Job's children have died in one day. In that same day he lost all of his livestock. Here is how Job responded:
Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Chapter 2: On the heels of this devastation Job is struck with boils all over his body. His wife is in a level of pain that very few people can relate to. Here is Job’s response to his wife:
“You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Chapter 3: Some time has passed … Job has been visited by friends … the pain of his loss has taken hold. Job is coming out of denial and responds:
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
In March of 1990 my first wife Ellen had a heart attack and kidney failure at the age of 39 … after four years of declining health and hemodialysis Ellen passed away in 1994. My initial responses to my pain were very much like Job’s. Masking my inner devastation I often spoke words that were very religious … albeit empty and devoid of inner truth.

Christian clichés did not help me but got in the way of dealing with my pain. Phrases like “God is still on the throne” or “I am a victor not a victim” or the ones that Job spoke caused me to shrink back in fear instead of addressing my plight in courage. Religious words never help because they insulate us from our pain instead of addressing it head-on.

I attended a grief group after Ellen died. It was in this group that I learned that to heal on the inside I had to step into my pain ... I had to deal with the reality of my experience in a truthful way. I believe that Job began to take this step into pain in chapter 3. This step is one of the scariest that I have ever taken … it took more courage than I ever imagined. This first step took me on a journey where I began to shed my religious answers. I am still on this journey … it is a journey where I am challenged every day to live out of my dangerous heart instead of my safe mind.

Most of Job’s story is one where he and his friends trade religious accusations and answers … this dialogue was not helpful and did not result in comfort or encouragement for Job. The next time you (or a friend) are in crisis please refrain from giving a religious answer. Get a hug or give a hug instead.

Are You Watching the (yawn) World Cup?

The World Cup soccer games began this week and today America faces off against Britain. This cartoon by Daryl Cagle reflects my attitude about the games. Charita Goshay, a staff writer for the Canton Rep, says some stuff that a few of us might resonate in her opinion piece titled For Americans, World Cup runneth over — with apathy. Consider this excerpt:
My unofficial, thoroughly unscientific Repository Newsroom Poll uncovered the top five reasons most Americans won't watch the World Cup:
  1. The field is so large, it looks like an ant farm on TV.
  2. It’s boring.
  3. If I we wanted to see good-looking people running, kicking and crying, we’d just watch Bravo.
  4. It's boring.
  5. America never wins.
Now I have to say that, apart from my son's soccer games of the 80s and 90s, I never watch the sport. And I wonder if many Americans really get into the World Cup games or if we are as apathetic about it as Charita thinks? Will you watch America and Britain kick it out today or will you find something else to do?

Movies that should Never be Remade

Fueled by the recent release of "The Karate Kid" the folks at our local NBC station are suggesting that these movies should never be remade:
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Godfather
- Casablanca
- Caddyshack
- Ghost Busters
- The Princess Bride
- Arthur
- Goodfellas
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
- E.T.
- The Exorcist
- Coming to America
If memory serves me right Oz was remade starring Michael Jackson and was called "The Wiz". And in a sense "The Godfather", "Ghostbusters" and "The Exorcist" was remade in sequels. But I digress.. the TV folks wanted to know what movies we would add to the list. Here are just a few off the top of my head that I would not remake:
  • Chariots of Fire: Why mess with perfection. How could anyone match the score and the story.. of course this is a story that needs to be retold many times.
  • The Sound of Music: Better to keep this one on the stage. Not sure what one could do to improve the cinematography and singing.. even Christopher Plummer was okay.
  • Star Wars Trilogy: The prequel trilogy is evidence that you cannot remake a movie series as iconic as the original.
  • The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Eastwood was good but it would just be too hard to replace Eli Wallach's great performance as the rascally Tuco.
It is difficult to really know how good or bad a remake of any movie would be. There have been some good remakes. "Heaven Can Wait" was a great remake of "Heaven Knows Mr Allison". I did not like "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake but I thought last years "Star Trek" was a very good prequel. I think that one of my favorite remakes was 2005's "King Kong" - Peter Jackson did a great job bring the big ape back to the big screen.

I know that I have missed a bunch. Let me know what ones you would not want remade. Also let me know of any great remakes that you can remember.

The Great Gift of Human Beings

Last week I heard the news that Al and Tipper Gore were separated and on their way to divorce.. and I felt sad. A few month ago the news broke about how Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James, had been running around on her.. and I felt sad. I remember the feelings of sadness that I had when I heard of the passing of Christopher Reeve.. and then seemed to feel doubly sad when his wife Dana passed away leaving their son without a mom or a dad. I marvel at these feelings of empathy because I have never met any of the aforementioned people - I only knew of them but I did not know them.. their celebrity caught my attention.

Now before you get to thinking that I am too caught up in our celebrity culture I might remind you that this phenomenon is a fairly common one. Who can forget the feelings of sadness (and other emotions) that we had when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center? Or at the news of the shooting of President Kennedy? In fact sadness and empathy can also be elicited from fictional characters that we read in a book or watch in a movie or on TV. There seems to be something very human about the way that we can have feelings for people that are strangers - both the real and unreal ones.

Here are a few quotes from people about empathy and my thoughts about them:
Anyone who has experienced a certain amount of loss in their life has empathy for those who have experienced loss. -Anderson Cooper
I think that is true.. as we age we experience loss and are often more empathetic.
The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy. -Meryl Streep
Maybe this ability to empathize is what separates humanity from all of creation? Our ability to feel other's pain is an amazing gift for sure.
There is also a natural and very, very strong empathy with the underdog, with people who have suffered, people who have been pushed around by foreigners in particular, but also by their own people. -Lakhdar Brahimi
Rooting for the underdog is another aspect of empathy. Who isn't moved by someone who has fought all odds and overcome? We all rooted for Rocky.
I hope to leave my children a sense of empathy and pity and a will to right social wrongs. -Anita Roddick
I think that empathy is at the heart of social activism and is the reason people can escape beyond themselves and help people who are hurting and hopeless.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
-Book of Hebrews
When I think about the Jesus of the gospels I think about empathy and compassion. I think that one of the reasons that Jesus came was to teach us and show us that God is a being who is rich in empathy and that when we hurt he is there empathizing and showing us what is means to be truly human. It is in this context that prayer makes sense - we pray because we know God cares.

What comes to mind when you think about the word "empathy"?

Bill's Journey from 230 to 151

Thought I would share a bit of inspiration with you this morning from a friend in the Blogosphere. Bill and I have been blogging friends for many years. He is a high school teacher in Bakersfield, California. This week he shared these pictures and his story of going from 230 pounds last year to 151 pounds this week. I suggest you read his story here in a post he calls Miracles still do happen.. following are a few inspirational highlights from his 80 pound weight loss journey:

Twelve years ago during the month of August I fractured/broke my lower back while mountain biking in Redwood National Park. The crash was the most traumatic physical experience of my life. Seven hours passed between the time of the crash and the time I arrived at Mad River Hospital in Arcata California. During those seven hours I often wondered if this serious injury would end my teaching career or disable me for the rest of my life. At the time of the injury I knew it was serious because I couldn’t get myself up.
Last summer I hit rock bottom regarding my weight and my back. I ballooned to about 230 pounds and was forced to abandon my annual camping trip after 36 hours due to the and the inability to barely get up off the ground in the morning. I had to use a cane to lift my body up and one morning I didn’t think I was going to be able to get up at all.
So, what happened? I believe there is often more than one way to describe or interpret an event. On one level, one could say my personal physical transformation is best described as a miracle. I wouldn’t quibble with that. I still frequently look at myself in the mirror and ask who is that guy, good looking mind you, who is staring at you in the mirror? From another perspective, one can attribute the change to a lot of hard work, perseverance and discipline Personally, I embrace both perspectives but would add the element of mystery. I don’t know why I was able to break through at this particular time in my life. I wasn’t particularly motivated anymore than any other time in my life and I didn’t really do anything new I hadn’t tried before. It’s a mystery to me.
I want to encourage you do whatever you can to move in the direction of improving your own health. I can’t promise you the kind of success I have experienced over the past ten months but our goals should always be based on doing what “we” can do to improve ourselves while taking into account our own individual limitations. ... I want to encourage everyone to do what “you” can do and don’t worry about comparing yourself to others. If you do what you can do on a regular basis I suspect you will eventually see results and you will feel better about you/

If you want to learn more about what Bill specifically did I suggest you read his post.. and join me in saying "Way to go Bill".. and thanks for providing some inspiration for us today!

Water Powered Cars

This would be funny
if it were not so sad.

With credits to
Brendon Sinclair.

Are All Old Guys Wise?

So I am on my way to the place that works on my Ramp Van and I stop at Einstein Brothers to get a poppyseed bagel and a cup of their dark blend.. and the young guy at the checkout asks me if I am an "Old Wise Guy".. I replied yes because I wanted to get the ten percent discount. Yet it did get me to wondering this thought:
Are all old guys wise?
Of course the answer is "maybe not".. or is it "maybe so"? Without get into a long definition of wisdom and what it means to be wise I would like to say that I think part of what it means to be wise is to have experience - both the good and the bad sort. I would categorically say that I am wiser now then I was when I was younger.. hands down I have learned from both my successes and my failures. Who can say that they have not grown wiser with age?

So I begin to think about this whole thing of aging and how sometimes much younger people lead older folks. Perhaps this usually happens because the younger person has more expertise.. wisdom if you will.. than the older person in a specific trade.. or maybe the older person lacks leadership wisdom. Do you see where I am going? Not sure that I do yet. But it does lead me to another question:
Should Elders be elder?
Yes.. I am sorta speaking of church.. but I think the question is even broader than that. People seem to be preoccupied with youthful leaders - I think that one of the appeals of candidate Barack Obama was his youthful energy.. while candidate John McCain seemed old standing beside him.. even a Saturday Night Live skit played on McCain's elderlyness. And I have to admit that this seems to bleed over into the religious world as well.. I know church "Elders" who are in their 20s and 30s.. not too elderly for sure.

So what am I saying? Not sure I really have a point other than to say that I think that our culture does not really esteem the wisdom of elders or of being elderly. I think that we once did. I do remember a time when gray haired men mentored and taught me both in my professional and religious life. I had many uncles in the faith and teachers on my job.. especially in my 20s and 30s.

Getting back to the question - The answer is yes! I do think that all old guys are wise when compared with younger versions on themselves.. even if they do appear to be old fools at times - not that I can relate.

Who is on Economic First

Reminiscent of the old Abbot and Costello baseball routine..

Give Your Brain a Break!

In her Smart Planet article titled Are we being conditioned to have attention deficit disorder? Heather Clancy opines about the ways that work can been all consuming and affect the ways that we live. Here are a few clips from her piece:
When was the last time you sat in your office and did absolutely nothing?

And I mean nothing: took your hands off the keyboard, shut the ringer down off your mobile device, and stared out the window and thought creative thoughts about how you could be a better leader or manager or team contributors? I bet very few of you reading this are able to sit still and do this for more than five minutes. I dare you! Set the timer on your cell phone if you absolutely must.

I have often theorized in the past several years with my colleagues and friends and family that we are a nation, a generation (because it’s affecting people of every age) that has been conditioned to have attention deficit disorder (ADD). In fact, in some ways, you can’t be successful if you don’t have it. As I write this, I’m checking e-mail, since I’ve got four (five?) different accounts and I received literally hundreds every day. I’ve got my Google reader and my calendar for the workday open, and I’ve just printed an article from the New York Times about this very topic so that I can look away from my computer for a few moments and collect my thoughts about what I’m writing.
Heather goes on to speak about how obsessively connected she was, via Facebook and email, during a recent retreat with her singing group. I can relate.. even in this season of retirement I seem to be busy all of the time multitasking things on that really don't matter all that much. Heather ends by speaking to our need for "rest":
But one way to make better use of the time we must spend multitasking is to make sure that we pick at least one small window of time every day in which our brains can rest while awake, can tap into our imagination. I was about to say a time in which we can think like a “child,” but sadly many of our children haven’t every been allowed to do this. Is that smart?
That last question hits to the heart of the issue. It does not seem smart to get stressed out by our need to be busy every day. I know that even my "quiet times" can be all about doing - praying.. studying.. meditating.. reading.. anything but a time of quiet. Possibly.. as Heather suggests.. each day I need to make sure that I rest my brain.. it does need a break.

Can you relate to what Heather is saying? What do you do to rest your brain?

The Harmonica Man

Just to brighten up your afternoon and cause a smile to cross your face..

Not So Small Perks

This graphic below got me thinking about the little and not-so-little things that used to (back before retirement) make my work life so much more enjoyable. Here is my top four rank ordered for your enjoyment:
  1. The Work Itself: This one is especially focused on two of my jobs - software design and pastoral ministry. There is just something special about doing something you feel that you were born to do.
  2. Relationships: When I think about my many years working for AT&T I think about George and Steve and Bryon and Doug.. and the great times I had not only working with these guys but the hours we spent eating BBQ and laughing. The same could be said about my years working at the church.
  3. Flexible Hours: Back when I began working everyone I knew worked the proverbial nine-to-five forty-hour week. In the late 1980s that began to change.. we still worked 8+ hour days and 40+ hour weeks but our start and stop times were flexible. I loved having this kind of flexibility - it really cut down on my commuting time.
  4. Casual Fridays: These days in the late 1980s eventually morphed into casual everyday at Bell Labs. There is just something great about not having to dress-up (read that with neck chokers) to sit in a cubicle. This may be one of the best things that Baby Boomers brought to the work place - a focus on excellence in what you do instead of how you look.
What things do you enjoy most about your job? Have things gotten better over the years?

Remembering Ellen

Thirty-nine years ago today on a Sunday in El Paso, Texas I married Ellen Lee. To honor the occasion I thought that I would share the eulogy I gave sixteen years ago at her funeral.

How do I begin to tell the story of my 23 year love affair with Ellen? I'll start by saying that from our very first meeting I knew that Ellen was special. Being around her was like being around someone filled with joy. She has always, first and foremost, been my best friend ... my closest confidant ... someone from whom I drew great strength. I miss her.

Let me tell you about her. Ellen was born in St. Augustine, Florida on November 27th, 1950 to Jack and Anneliese Lee. Her dad was an Army Master Sergeant and when she was five he was assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. She graduated from High School in 1969 and became a licensed beautician shortly after. She had three close friends growing up -- Pam, Rene' and Peggy.

Ellen and I met at a club on the base February 6th, 1971 while I was serving in the Army. Our courtship lasted only four months -- we would have celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary on June 6th. Our journey took us from El Paso to Kansas City via New York / New Jersey for three years and Houston, Texas for a year and a half. We came to the Kansas City area in 1976. We lived in Olathe for 8 years and have lived in Lenexa for the last 9 years.

Over the years Ellen's interests ranged from ceramics, quilting, sewing, gardening and several other craft type hobbies. Her greatest joy however was being a mom -- all the crafts took a backseat to her children -- Ellen took parenting seriously -- she was always reading and studying on how to be a better Mom. Our two children - Matthew, who will be 14 in July, and Susanna who will be 10 in August, are a testimony to her diligence.

Ellen had a deep love for the scripture and had read the bible through in 4 different translations. Ellen was God's vessel in my own conversion experience -- she wouldn't let me be comfortable with a dead faith -- she challenged me. I still remember a conversation that we had one night in our living room in Houston - it changed me forever. We were talking about spiritual things and I was giving Ellen the run-around ... I would say things like I believe what the Episcopalians believe ... She asked me point blank -- do you believe in bible .. I said "of course I do - all Episcopalians believe in the bible". She then asked if I believed in evolution - I responded that all intelligent people believed in evolution ... well I wasn't ready for her reply. She said " then you don't believe in the bible". I had no response. I had never read the bible and I had no idea what it said. Her reply sent me into a period of real evaluation of my life and six months later I committed my life to Christ.

Let me tell you of her endurance. I have seen Ellen blinded for three years by retinal hemorhaging, hospitalized for weeks on end, weakened for four years from heart and kidney failure -- yet filled with God's joy. When I visited Ellen in the hospital to "Cheer her up" - it seemed that I was the one that came away feeling better -- I could cite testimony on testimony from her hospital nurses of how she endured suffering with much dignity. Though I knew she was in pain much of our married life -- Ellen never complained. She is and ever will be a testimony of enduring faith ... a trophy of His mercy, grace and love.

While Ellen triumphed in suffering, I was not always so triumphant. My frustrations with her situation were usually vented in prayer. Several days before she passed on I was in such a prayer session -- I was asking the Lord why Ellen had to go through all the pain that she was experiencing during this last hospitalization. His answer surprised me - for I no sooner said the word "Why?" and my mind was flooded with a picture of a golden crown ... filled with rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

I think that the Lord was showing me that Ellen was a jewel in His crown -- an emerald of patience and endurance -- a diamond reflecting the radiance of His joy -- and a ruby of His love and compassion. She was on display for us all ... so that we could know the beauty of faith ... the warmth of love ... and the courage of someone who faced adversity and beat it! I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have loved, and be loved by, my dear wife Ellen.

Worry, the Brain and the Gut

My blogging friend Gregg, at Gospel Driven Disciples, recently posted about worry and the bible. Here are my thoughts about worry that I posted in the comments:
Generally I found that I did not worry that much in my early life.. I was pretty resilient and even when my wife went blind when I was 22 I do not remember worrying that much.. I do remember crying though.

As life goes on though we do see a lot of bad stuff happening.. bad stuff happens to us.. my wife died when she was 43.. other bad stuff followed.. my kids acted out as they grieved her loss with all sorts of bad behaviors.. I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that caused disability in my joints.. my second wife got real sick and is now in a wheelchair.

So when I think about the future I sometimes wonder what God will allow to afflict me.. not sure that it is worry.. but I do ponder the future.. always a problem when our brains are engaged. But when I engage my innermost  being (i.e. my gut) I find that I have hope.. not that bad stuff will not happen to me.. but that God will be with me if it does. And IMO that makes all of the difference.

Jesus said that we would have trials.. He also promised to be there when we do.. a message from His heart to ours.. now if I could just disengage my brain :)
I think that worry is a natural response from our brain because, generally speaking, we worry about the things that we have no control over. We worry about our future, our health and our kids.. and the futility of worry becomes so evident over time.. yet we continue to do it instead of engaging our gut. Some lessons are so hard to learn

Laughter is no Laughing Matter

Today's post is brought to you in it's entirety from Kim Allen at Heart Math..

Someone once told me while I was in the midst of a difficult situation, if there's the slightest chance you might look back on this some day and laugh about it, start laughing now. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but it sure has helped me get through some tough times.

In addition to being a quick perceptual shift, laughter has a lot of benefits. Studies on humor and laughter from Duke University, Loma Linda University, UCLA and others have shown:
  • Laughing helps relax tense muscles.
  • It reduces the production of stress hormones.
  • Laughter and a positive attitude strengthen the immune system.
  • It allows a person to 'forget' about aches and pains and perceive pain as less intense.
  • A good laugh is like an aerobic workout for the heart and lungs--increasing the body's ability to use oxygen.
  • It helps lower high blood pressure.
  • There are no known negative side effects to laughter.
Laughing is a part of the human experience. Recent research shows that "circuits" for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the human brain. Robert Provine, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, tells us laughter's origin is in tickling and rough-and-tumble play. Laughter is literally the sound of play.

Maybe that's why young children laugh over 300 times a day. It’s natural. Surprise, surprise: That number falls to 15 with adults. Unlike children who laugh unconditionally, we adults wait to find cause. Which brings up another one of those which-came-first conundrums: Do we grow old because we stop laughing? Or, do we lose our ability to laugh because we grow up? Whatever tickles your funny bone, add more laughter to your day!

Bleeding Red Ink and Black Oil

My fellow blogger, Robin Lee Hatcher, posted this picture today saying this about the Gulf oil leak and the fiscal state of our country:
"As horrible as that environmental disaster is (and it's undeniably horrible), the spilling of red ink coming out of Washington poses an ever growing threat to the life of our nation."
I agree with Robin. And as I have been uber-busy these days with the activities of moving to a new place I thought that I would simply solicit your input on both the fiscal and geological bleedings. What lessons do you think Americans should take away from them?

The Blind Side | ★★★★★★★★★☆

Sometimes a story just seems too good to be true. Such is the case with this one. Really - a white Memphis deep-south blonde-haired mom reaching out to a large African American teenage boy? And not only reaching out but making him a part of her family? On what planet would anyone consider this story to be one based in fact? And yet.. in fact.. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy did just that.

I cheered.. I cried (several parts of the movie was so moving).. I rejoiced. This movie is a celebration of what is right with us. Leigh Anne Tuohy (played flawlessly by Sandra Bullock) elevated what it means to be a human being.

In this story Leigh Anne teaches us all what it means to love and care. The relationship between Michael Oher, that wonderful high schooler played by Quinton Aaron, was so heartwarming. Leigh Anne and her family welcomed this homeless teen into their home buying him clothes, furniture and anything he needed. His transition in the movie was simply wonderful. And football seemed to just be a byline in the story. I highly recommend this one. On a scale of 10 I give this movie ★★★★★★★★★☆

Catch my other mini-reviews by selecting the Movies link in the menu bar above.